As the NBA postseason winds down, all 30 NBA teams are dipping into the draft pool with their sights set on landing the game's next big star.
Wipe out any haunting memories of last year's draft, because this year's batch of prospects represents a complete 180. A year after one of the dullest draft classes, this year's bunch looks to yield the most NBA talent since the 2003 event that saw LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony graduate to the next level.
From that draft, productive pros such as David West, Boris Diaw, Kyle Korver and Steve Blake also sprung up, so don't fixate solely on the headliners. Teams don't need a top-five pick to partake in the fun.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
This is a prediction of what the Cavaliers will do rather than an assessment of what they should do. Teams have been spurned chasing colossal rim-protectors before, but the Hakeem Olajuwon comparisons continue to fuel Embiid's prospects of going No. 1 overall.
According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, the big man is Cleveland's top choice if the center is assigned a clean bill of health.
The 7-foot Cameroon native is the frontrunner to be taken by the Cavs, who hold the No. 1 overall pick in the June 26 NBA Draft, according to multiple sources close to the situation. However, it will depend heavily on his medical evaluation by team doctors since he sat out the end of his freshman campaign with what Kansas called a stress fracture in his lower back.
It's a risky choice, but Embiid is a potential block machine who recorded an outstanding 62.6 field goal percentage during his freshman season.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas
Despite missing out on the No. 1 pick, Milwaukee still gets its franchise blue-chipper in Andrew Wiggins. One of the most hyped prospects since LeBron James, the 19-year-old flashes incredible athleticism and a wide-ranging wingspan that will make him a defensive force on the pro circuit. Not bad for the No. 2 pick.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
The 76ers could package the No. 10 pick to move up for Wiggins, but they sit back and enjoy making Round 1's easiest choice. Philadelphia will get the third potential superstar that slips to No. 3, which is Duke's Jabari Parker in this scenario.
4. Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, G, Australia
At 6'6", Australia's Dante Exum still offers the speed and handles to run the point, a position of need for an Orlando squad that toyed with Victor Oladipo running the offense last season. While he's the most unknown commodity of the top choices, he's explosive enough to give the marquee names a run for their money in one of the league's most fruitful draft classes.
5. Utah Jazz: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Dropping a spot hurts Utah the most. Not only do the Jazz miss out on the four prized prospects, but there's no clear-cut choice waiting for them at No. 5.
They can steer down several different paths, but Noah Vonleh is the most intriguing option of the bunch. He's lengthy and mobile enough to alter shots and can space the court with deep range, a huge plus as more teams look to move their bigs outside to emulate the Miami Heat's model.
Utah already has two young big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, but that won't prevent it from adding one more in Vonleh.
6. Boston Celtics: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Unless Utah snatches him up with the fifth choice, the uber-athletic Aaron Gordon will find himself running alongside Rajon Rondo in Boston. According to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, "Several league sources believe that Celtics GM Danny Ainge is locked in on Gordon."
The forward will ignite some energy into the TD Bank Garden with his highlight-reel dunking display while playing shut-down defense at the forward slot.
7. Los Angeles Lakers: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle won't help the Lakers' anemic defensive efforts enabled by the departed Mike D'Antoni's offensive ways, but he's a post-up maven who gives Kobe Bryant a new target down low in place of free agent Paul Gasol.
The Lakers can't solve all of their problems with one pick, but they at least procure some offense from a double-double machine who looks like the second incarnation of Zach Randolph.
8. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart is versatile enough on both ends of the court to mesh with Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore in Sacramento's backcourt. He can help distribute the ball peacefully to all of the squad's offensive options while adding some much-needed defensive tenacity.
Besides, all the top power forwards are off the board, so the Kings might as well snag the best remaining value.
9. Charlotte Hornets (via Detroit): Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Charlotte earned a playoff spot in the barren Eastern Conference by pounding the rock down low to Al Jefferson, but some space-clearing shooters would greatly behoove an offense that ranked 23rd with a 35.1 shooting percentage from behind the arc.
Doug McDermott, the NCAA's leading Divison I scorer, would certainly strengthen the Hornets' offensive cause. The Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell and ESPN's Chad Ford both have picked up murmurs about their interest in the Creighton star.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
There aren't many true shooting guards left these days, so Philadelphia will consider itself lucky to find Gary Harris waiting to fill that area of need. Shortly after landing Parker, Harris provides the 76ers with a two-way player and some useful outside shooting for a team whose 31.2 three-point percentage ranked last in 2013-14.
11. Denver Nuggets: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
Also in need of a shooting guard with a limited supply of them to disperse, the Nuggets grab Michigan's Nik Stauskas despite his defensive limitations. After shooting 44.2 percent from deep range during his sophomore campaign, Stauskas' shooting touch earns him a lottery selection with Denver.
12. Orlando Magic (via New York): Dario Saric, F, Croatia
In need of some shooting of their own, the Magic again look beyond the United States with their second international lottery selection. This time they secure Croatia's Dario Saric, a swift shooter and prolific passer whose game seems like it should translate to the the NBA.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
The brewing Kevin Love saga creates substantial turmoil in Minnesota and perhaps urges the organization to consider a Plan B at power forward with pick No. 13. For now, look for the Wolves to address their lack of wing scorers by adding Duke's Rodney Hood to the fold.
14. Phoenix Suns: James Young, SF. Kentucky
Continuing the run on perimeter scorers, the Suns scoop up Kentucky's James Young. Although he played small forward on a crowded Kentucky squad, he told the Suns, per the team's official Twitter page, that he sees himself slotting back into a shooting guard role.
Either way, the Suns will welcome his explosiveness as they look to capitalize on their first of three Round 1 selections.
15. Atlanta Hawks: Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
This draft's Charlie Kelly, Zach LaVine is the biggest wild card of the bunch. Scoring 9.4 points per game at UCLA hardly justifies him vying for lottery consideration, but he raised some eyebrows by jumping really, really high during a session with the Lakers.
Some team is likely to hear "super athletic, UCLA combo guard" and hope it lands the next Russell Westbrook. After years of meaningless playoff appearances marred by quick exits, the Hawks are the perfect team to take the bold leap.
16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte): Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
The lottery cost Tyler Ennis a possible landing spot in Detroit, but he now gets to join the NBA's peskiest contender as insurance for the oft-injured Derrick Rose. Even if the star point guard triumphantly returns in 2014, Ennis can log valuable minutes off the bench for a defense-first club that will welcome his thrifty hands.
17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Kyle Anderson, PG/SF, UCLA
All Kyle Anderson did last year was post 14.6 points, 8.8 boards, 6.5 assists and 1.8 steals a night for the Bruins. Oh yeah, the 6'9" sophomore tallied those gaudy numbers at point guard.
An unusual talent, Anderson can help Boston at small forward while presenting a backup plan should the team part ways with Rondo. Either way, his stats are too good to ignore.
18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington): P.J. Hairston, SG, Texas Legends (NBA D-League)
While it's uncertain how P.J. Hairston's D-League success will parlay to the pro level, the guard should immediately offer offense off the bench. Getting picked early would be a huge rallying cry for the NBA's growing farm system.
19. Chicago Bulls: T.J. Warren, SF, North Carolina State
Despite showing a weak touch from behind the three-point line, T.J. Warren still managed to average 24.9 points per game last year while shooting 58.2 percent on two-pointers. The offensively starved Bulls will welcome points any way they can get them.
20. Toronto Raptors: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
Adreian Payne would warrant better draft real estate were he not 23 years old, giving Toronto a terrific value pick at No. 20. He shot over 50 percent from the floor in each of his final three seasons with the Spartans and included the long ball in his arsenal during his senior year.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas): Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Kendrick Perkins started 62 games for the Thunder last year. Kendrick Perkins notched a 6.32 Player Efficiency Rating and reached double-digit points once. It's time to give Steven Adams more minutes and accompany him with Jusuf Nurkic to make Oklahoma City more than a two-man show.
22. Memphis Grizzlies: Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State
Cleanthony Early will likely be asked to shift to small forward regardless of which team drafts him, but Memphis certainly has no room for him down low with Randolph and Marc Gasol occupying the frontcourt. His success depends on his ability to keep up with small forwards defensively.
23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels was a defensive menace for Clemson, brandishing 2.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game during his junior year. This theft from the NBA combine did not count in that tally.
A steady outside shot would make McDaniels the real deal, but he posted a mediocre 30.4 three-point percentage last year.
24. Charlotte Hornets (via Portland): Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
Why analyze the mysterious Clint Capela when the man did it himself? The 20-year-old forward succinctly broke down his strengths during a workout with the Boston Celtics.
He didn't mention that he's a long-term project, but that's perfectly OK at pick No. 24. Charlotte can stash him away before easing the international prospect into NBA action.
25. Houston Rockets: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana-Lafayette
Although he does not come from a prestigious college basketball program, Elfrid Payton's stock began soaring once everyone took a look at his numbers. He averaged 19.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists for the mid-major Ragin' Cajuns.
The 20-year-old boasts a whirlwind of energy from both sides of the court and may find an interested suitor much earlier in the proceedings. If not, Houston will gladly take him here given Patrick Beverley's unpredictability and the end of Linsanity.
26. Miami Heat: Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
After leading his Huskies to a national title, Shabazz Napier will join the Heat in their quest for a fifth straight Eastern Conference crown. He doesn't provide off-the-charts speed or hops, but the floor general does everything well enough to become a trustworthy contributor on the contender's second unit.
27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana): Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
Jerami Grant has the size and athleticism to attack the basket for an NBA franchise. But he's not much of a shooter, and that's putting it nicely.
The forward didn't sink a single three-pointer during his sophomore year, and that lack of range is a killer in today's NBA landscape. Considering this is their third pick of the evening, the Suns take the chance on his talent in the hopes of him developing passable range.
28. Los Angeles Clippers: Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
A potential lottery pick before a back injury ruined his 2013 season, Mitch McGary can deliver solid minutes off the bench at a bargain for Los Angeles. The Clippers need a big man who can spell Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan without their interior game unraveling.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA
Not as intriguing as his former teammate LaVine, Adams outclassed him at UCLA with 17.4 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting. The 19-year-old shooting guard is the latest project in Oklahoma City's attempt to locate some bench production on the cheap side.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
Always tasked with finding hidden gems at the bottom of Round 1, the Spurs frequently dip their feet in international waters. They'll keep the tradition alive by gambling on Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-footer with an intriguing shooting touch.
By the time the 18-year-old is ready to make an impact, Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich could be sipping wine together off the grid in blissful retirement. But it's not like pick No. 30 is a gold mine for landing immediate All-Stars.
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